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Brunswick base redevelopers hope Congress backs no-cost transfers

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Brunswick base redevelopers hope Congress backs no-cost transfers

BRUNSWICK — The U.S. House of Representatives this week was expected to hear a bill sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, that could help speed redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Meanwhile, a nearly identical bill sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is making its way through the U.S. Senate.

The two bills will have to be reconciled in conference committee if they gain passage by their respective chambers.

Both bills are structured to encourage the Defense Department to award no-cost property conveyances to redevelopment authorities overseeing the transition of military installations to civilian use.

The legislation is significant because the military is now obligated to seek fair market value for property. The requirement was debated during the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure round, with opponents arguing that the provision would slow redevelopment.

Both bills are endorsed by the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the organization implementing the reuse plan for BNAS.

MRRA executive director Steve Levesque has said that the U.S. Navy's obligation to seek fair market value for land could impede development of Brunswick's 3,200-acre installation. In a press release from Pingree's office, Levesque said that without no-cost conveyances, MRRA would have to come up with $20 million to $30 million to purchase property at BNAS.

"I don't know where anyone would come up with that kind of cash in this environment," he said. "And that would mean a big part of BNAS would sit undeveloped. This region would suffer greatly."

Cost overruns by the 2005 BRAC round add another factor to property transfer. According to according to reports from the Government Accountability Office, base closures nationwide have exceeded original estimates by $32.4 billion.

It's unclear if those overruns will breed lawmaker opposition to the new legislation in the House and Senate. Snowe introduced a similar bill in 2007 requiring no-cost property conveyances, but the legislation failed to gain enough support.

Willy Ritch, Pingree's spokesman, said Monday that the freshman congresswoman didn't consult Snowe before submitting her legislation, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. But, Ritch added, it was safe to say "that redeveloping BNAS was a goal of the entire Maine delegation."

"Clearly, when (Pingree) sat down with Steve Levesque last year, this legislation was a priority for the redevelopment authority," Ritch said.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net